Former Mossad agent: Arad photographs shed no new light on his fate

"The only thing they show is that he has been in captivity for a while - you can see it in his eyes."

Ron Arad 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 1)
Ron Arad 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 1)
For the last 10 years, Mossad agent Rami Igra has believed that the fate of missing aviator Ron Arad is likely to remain an unsolved mystery. Sunday's release of two new photographs of Arad in captivity did not shake that conclusion. "The photos have important nostalgic and emotional value for the families, but have no relevance" to the overall question of what happened to Arad, said Igra. "The only thing they show is that he has been in captivity for a while - you can see it in his eyes." Igra was the head of the Mossad's department for prisoners and missing persons until 1999. In the 1990s he spearheaded efforts to find Arad, who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986; he reportedly traveled overseas more than 100 times to meet with sources and colleagues from other intelligence agencies to gather information about the missing navigator. By the end of his tenure, he had concluded that Arad had most likely died while escaping from his captors somewhere between the night of May 4 and the morning of May 5 in 1988. This assessment did not change after he viewed the photographs, which show Arad wounded - in his left shoulder in one photo, and in his arm in the other. According to Igra, his wounds would have had no bearing on his ability to escape, because both photographs were taken in 1987. Initially, he said, Arad was taken prisoner by a Lebanese Shi'ite movement called Amal, headed by Mustafa Dirani. Negotiations were opened for his release in exchange for prisoners, but Israel balked at the requested price. Two major prisoners swaps, in 1983 and 1985, had proven to be both controversial and costly, in large part because those released had continued to engage in violence against Israel and, among other things, helped build Hamas, said Igra. As this debate raged, the IDF conducted an operation called "Maydun" in the area where Arad was held, Igra said. "It was said that [those] guarding Ron Arad left and went to fight with their comrades against the Israelis," he said. "This was the last night there was any information about him. Until that night, he sent letters that were received in Israel, and there was constant information about his well-being, if not his whereabouts." After that night and for the ensuing 22 years, the big question has been what happened after the guards left. There are three main theories: that Arad was killed by the guards, that he escaped, or that Dirani struck a deal with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that resulted in Arad being spirited away to Iran. Igra dismissed the last theory as implausible. If Iran had any information on him, they would have attempted to use it as a bargaining chip, he said, adding that they would not let such an opportunity slip by them. The same was true for Hizbullah: If they had him or knew where he was, he said, they would use it as a bargaining chip with Israel. Igra believes that the first two scenarios are more plausible, particularly the one in which Arad died while trying to escape. The mountainous terrain in that area is treacherous, and he could easily have slipped and died unseen, falling into a ravine, he said. Israel, Igra said, has done everything in its power to find Arad and has spent the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars. "The country has spared nothing, as far as I know, to solve this question," he said. "But it has been unsuccessful."